School of Bordeaux

Class is in session with Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW
September 12, 2018 Updated: October 8, 2018

Picture this: A well-manicured lady is ceremoniously presented with a bottle of wine from the Médoc AOC. She watches intently as the contents are decanted and poured, then holds the offering up to the light, swirls, sniffs—“Pleasing licorice and complex red and blackberry on the nose”—finally sips, eyes closed, and exclaims, “Structured, robust, full-bodied.” Final words: “Room to develop if cellared.” Spittoon. #endscene

The pretension of it all … Wait! Don’t talk about me like that. As evidenced by my “queen of humility” involvement in the libations scene, Bordeaux really is accessible, and like cheese and bourbon, it just takes a little learning.

The Bordeaux Wine Council created an app, Oenobordeaux, expected to reach 8,000 downloads by the end of the year, as an educational tool targeted to wine professionals but useful for any interested party. The council also maintains an interactive website chock-full of video content. After a deep dive into the aforementioned learning tools, I discussed how Bordeaux has shaken off its airs of pomposity with Mary Gorman-McAdams, Master of Wine, and North America market adviser to the Bordeaux Wine Council.

Amanda Burrill: What are the Bordeaux wine region basics?

Mary Gorman-McAdams: Bordeaux is a well-known and large—275,000 acres of vineyard, six times the size of Napa Valley—wine region producing diverse wines; not all red, but also white and rosé. Whites can be dry or sweet and are probably not so well-known. Bordeaux also produces traditional-method sparkling wines.

Amanda Burrill: What’s contributed to Bordeaux’s intimidation factor?

Ms. Gorman-McAdams: The general perception of Bordeaux wine is one of high quality but also one of high prices. I often say that Bordeaux is most-known for its “haute couture” wines; the top classified growths, incredibly age-worthy, needing years to become ready for drinking and with 3+ digit price tags. Yes, these wines are part of Bordeaux, the “crown jewels” so to speak.

The reality is that these wines account for between 3 percent and 4 percent of all the wine produced in Bordeaux. The annual “en primeur” campaign every April feeds the press about these wines. The other perception about Bordeaux is that if it is not expensive and does not carry a classification, then it cannot be good. This is so far from the truth.

Amanda Burrill: Now that we’ve discussed perception, what is the reality?

Ms. Gorman-McAdams: The reality is that most Bordeaux wines are very affordable and ready to enjoy when released. Even though they do not need cellaring before enjoying, they can last. So if you have the space, stash away a few bottles (buy a case and try a bottle or two every year). I am talking about wines that cost less than $25–$30. I call these the “prêt-à-porter” or the “ready-to-drink” line.

Amanda Burrill: How much less than that $25–$35 price point are we talking?

Ms. Gorman-McAdams: I am weekly astounded by the price to quality ratio to be found with affordable Bordeaux—$10–$12 can buy you a delicious dry white or rosé, and once you hit $15 you get really fabulous reds.

Amanda Burrill: So Bordeaux has successfully shaken off the stuffy reputation of old?

Ms. Gorman-McAdams: I think so. I can see a press shift and more ink being given to the less well-acclaimed wines and appellations. But the real proof is that sales of Bordeaux wines to the U.S. are growing steadily and 60 percent of these wines by volume retail between $10 and $35 per bottle  (according to 2017 figures). Over the past few years Bordeaux has worked hard to shake off the “stuffy” perception. The best way to do this is by tasting: creating opportunities for consumers, the trade, and the press to taste, discover or rediscover Bordeaux.

Amanda Burrill: Why should I visit Bordeaux?

Ms. Gorman-McAdams: Bordeaux, as a wine region and city, has also undergone a huge transformation—Bordeaux city is regularly cited as a “best tourist destination.” It is a hip, modern, dynamic city full of young people doing things differently, yet anchored in their heritage.

Pop Some Bottles

Châteaux Donissan 2010  ($15–$19)
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot.
Nose: Leather, blackberry, and licorice.
Palate: Cherry, berry, and chocolate with a nice balance.

Château Bois Pertuis 2012 ($10–$14)
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Nose: Red berries and violet.
Palate: Cherry, ripe tannin, and good balance.

Cuvée Felix de Biac 2014 ($25–$29)
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
Nose: Red berry compote, chocolate, and leather.
Palate: Red fruits, dried herbs, bright acidity, and delicate tannins.

La Fleur de Amélie 2012 ($15–$19)
Blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
Nose: Peaches, white flowers, and lemon zest.
Palate: Passion fruit and grass, complex and rich.

Verdillac 2013 ($10–$14)
Sauvignon Blanc.
Nose: Lemon, white flowers, and unripened peach.
Palate: Intense lemon, herbaceous, classic Sauvignon Blanc.

Amanda Burrill sees through an adventurous lens, typically focused on culinary and travel. Her education includes a bachelor’s in archaeology, a master’s in journalism, a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu, and wine and spirits credentials earned while living in Paris. She is a U.S. Navy veteran, Ironman triathlete, high-alpine mountaineer, and injury connoisseur who ruminates on